Kruk & Kuip: 'It's a tough loss'
Jeremy Affeldt hadn't allowed a home run since Carlos Quentin went opposite field on June 6 of last year. (AP)
PHOENIX -– Matt Cain set aside his 5.45 ERA and matched zeroes with a pitcher who hadn’t been beaten in 11 starts. Pablo Sandoval huffed and puffed his way to third base. And Gregor Blanco provided the hit the Giants so desperately needed for 21 innings and change.
But it all got Goldschmidted to smithereens in a 3-1 loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks at Chase Field Friday night.
With apologies to Yasiel Puig and Miguel Cabrera, nobody in baseball is more dangerous right now than Paul Goldschmidt, who hit a line drive to the opposite field off Jeremy Affeldt that slipped over the fence for a three-run home run in the eighth inning.
Affeldt had allowed just one home run since the end of the 2011 season. His 2-0 pitch didn’t look all that regrettable, either. But Goldschmidt is muscling everything these days. He ripped away a well-deserved decision for Cain and rescued Arizona lefty Patrick Corbin, who was on the hook for his first loss of the season.
Starting pitching report
This is what the Giants have grown so accustomed to seeing from Cain over the years.
It’s that determined face. That ability to dig his heels with runners in scoring position. That innate quality that allows him to hold up his end against the other team’s ace, churning out zeroes.
And if he has to deal with a tight strike zone along the way, so be it.
That’s what the Giants saw from Cain Friday night. Their Opening Day starter escaped a wild first inning, neutralized one of the league’s most dangerous hitters and stood even with Corbin, who has a chance to become just the third major league pitcher in 25 years to reach 10 victories without a loss, joining Roger Clemens (in 1997) and Aaron Small (in 2005).
Cain appeared to be heading anywhere but toward his best start of the season in the first inning, when he walked the bases loaded and got away with several mistakes.
He threw 16 balls among his 31 pitches and appeared none too pleased with umpire Alan Porter’s strike zone. The right-hander appeared to turn and say something as he walked off the mound at the end of the inning.
He escaped only because the lion’s jaws didn’t snap shut on him when he faced Goldschmidt with two on and nobody out. Cain didn’t get the call on a fastball so he doubled up with another that caught too much of the plate, resulting in a 340-foot foul drive down the right field line. Cain tried a breaking ball and hung it, but Goldschmidt was just a tick too far in front and hit another long foul drive, this one down the left field line.
Cain came back with a 3-2 slider that was down in the zone, getting a double-play grounder from a red-hot hitter who entered with an NL-best 54 RBI.
Two more walks loaded the bases as the Diamondbacks kept working deep counts. But Cain threw another slider in a good place and Martin Prado grounded out to strand three.
Cain threw 31 pitches in the first inning. He threw 31 more over the next three innings, and got another double-play grounder from Goldschmidt, too. He also struck out the Arizona first baseman, who was hitting .415 over his last 12 games.
Cain started the eighth but was lifted with 105 pitches after A.J. Pollock reached on an infield single; Sandoval might have been playing a step too deep.
The Giants’ right-handed setup options are Jean Machi and Ramon Ramirez, so it was understandable that manager Bruce Bochy stuck with Affeldt, a left-hander, to face Goldschmidt with one out and two aboard.
Affeldt fell behind 2-0 and probably would’ve been fine if Goldschmidt had continued taking pitches. But even when you’re trying to pitch around a hot hitter, you’re liable to get burned.
If you didn’t think Santiago Casilla’s knee surgery would have an impact on this team, you haven’t been paying attention.
At the plate
The Giants only advanced one runner into scoring position in the first six innings against Corbin, who induced some hideous swings with his moving fastball, slider and change-up. Brandon Crawford looked especially lost while striking out twice.
But Sandoval and Brandon Belt started a rally with consecutive one-out singles in the seventh. Bochy, not wanting to see another Corbin-Crawford matchup, sent up pinch hitter Joaquin Arias, who hit a fly ball to deep right field.
Sandoval, who wasn’t especially fleet even before straining his foot last week, gamely tried to tag up. A good throw would’ve beaten him to third base, but right fielder Gerardo Parra was off line just enough. Sandoval heaved as he tried to catch his breath.
It was a huge 90 feet, since there’s little chance third base coach Tim Flannery would’ve sent home Sandoval from second base on Blanco’s single. Instead, the Panda was able to jog home with the club’s first run since the second inning Tuesday, when Andres Torres hit a two-run homer.
Blanco quietly improved to 7-for-20 (.350) with two outs and a runner in scoring position this season.
Cain had to bear down in the fifth after Didi Gregorius hit a leadoff double and took third on a fly out. With the infield in, first baseman Brandon Belt reached across his body to field Corbin’s tapper and made a low but accurate throw to catcher Buster Posey to throw out Gregorius at the plate.
Second baseman Marco Scutaro found the fountain of youth while making a sliding stop and throw in the eighth.
The Diamondbacks announced 37,542 paid, which sounds impressive until you consider that 20,000 probably came for the free AC. It was 108 degrees outside and 83 inside at first pitch.
The Giants and Diamondbacks continue their series at Chase Field on Saturday. Madison Bumgarner (4-4, 3.46) takes the mound looking for his first win in three starts this season against Arizona, even though he had a 0.63 ERA in the first two. He’ll oppose former A's right-hander Trevor Cahill (3-6, 3.27), who has had his share of hard-luck outings as well. First pitch is scheduled for 7:10 p.m. PDT.